American athletes simply aren’t backing down from protesting racial injustice.
From soccer to volleyball, student athletes and professional athletes alike are taking a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racism and police brutality over two weeks ago.
But some professional football players are also stepping up by putting their money where their knees are.
Less than a week after Kaepernick sat for the national anthem during the 49ers preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, Kaepernick promised to donate the first $1 million he earns this season to organizations working with the communities he’s advocating for (though he did not name specific organizations). A week later, the 49ers, who have supported his right to protest from the very beginning, announced the team would follow Kaepernick’s lead by pledging $1 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation, Bay Area-based organizations devoted to community investment.
Then on Wednesday, Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall announced his #TackleChange initiative on Instagram, vowing to donate $300 for each tackle he makes to local Denver organizations “that benefit the Denver community and others through the services, awareness and funds they provide for these critical social issues.”
On Thursday, Sept. 8, I took a knee for the National Anthem to take a stand against social injustice. My intent was not to offend anyone but rather to simply raise awareness and create some dialogue toward affecting positive change in our communities. In the last week, I’ve had a lot of productive conversations with people I respect, including Chief White of the Denver Police Department. I really appreciate all of them taking the time to listen to me and offer some insight and feedback on ways we can all make a difference. I’ve also had a lot of time to personally reflect on important issues such as race and gender equality, the treatment of our military veterans, our relationship with law enforcement, educational opportunities for our youth, and many more. I recognize and applaud the significant progress that has been made in these areas made possible only through the hard work of so many dedicated leaders. But, it’s clear there is so much more work to be done by all of us. Together, we all need to Stand Up for change. This starts with me. My work with the Rose Andom Center to stop domestic violence is fulfilling and close to my heart. But I need to do more. I plan to be involved with several other organizations that benefit the Denver community and others through the services, awareness and funds they provide for these critical social issues. And I will donate 300 dollars for every tackle I make this season to those programs. You can track these contributions on social media through #TackleChange. I’m truly grateful for the support I’ve received from so many people, especially my teammates. I look forward to preparing with them and focusing on an important game Sunday against the Colts.
Marshall noted that he appreciated and reflected on the “feedback” he’s received since joining Kaepernick’s protest by taking a knee during the national anthem before a game against the Carolina Panthers on September 8. But he also admitted there have been shortcomings on “important issues such as race and gender equality, the treatment of our military veterans, our relationship with law enforcement, educational opportunities for our youth” and other areas.
Marshall added: “Together, we all need to Stand Up for change. This starts with me.”
These pledges prove money won’t thwart athlete activism
Money has been key to much of the backlash against Kaepernick-inspired protests.
One of the earliest criticisms lobbied against Kaepernick was that he was “too rich to protest.” Meanwhile, Marshall has lost two corporate sponsorships from Air Academy Federal Credit Union and Century Link since he started taking a knee a week ago.
In both situations, money is leveraged as a source of critique rooted in self-interest, which, as Vox’s Jenée Desmond-Harris noted, is rooted in the false idea that more wealth inherently makes people more selfish.
“It reveals a belief that no person with relative privilege could possibly be interested in standing up for, or drawing attention to the plight of, people who are less powerful,” she wrote. “That — based on the most cursory glance at the history of racial justice activism in America — is demonstrably false.”
Social justice isn’t new for Marshall. In December 2014, Marshall helped sponsor a clothing drive in Denver for the Rose Andom Center, which focuses on providing support to domestic abuse survivors.
But some of the most prominent black athlete activists have also used philanthropy for social justice. Case in point: Muhammad Ali.
Ali famously refused to fight in the Vietnam War in 1967, not just because it was against his faith but also, more bluntly, because the Vietnamese, as he said, never “called me [racial slur].”
His stance drew national scorn. State senators in his home state of Kentucky went so far as to pass a resolution discrediting him. He was eventually banned from boxing for three years, nearly costing him his boxing career. Nonetheless, Ali remained steadfast in his fight for social justice, including immense philanthropic and humanitarian work, from Celebrity Fight Night charity events to bringing 15 American hostages in Iraq back home in 1990 when other diplomatic attempts failed.
Even athletes who have shied away from politics are beginning to follow suit.
In 1992, Michael Jordan made his political stance (or lack thereof) known by reportedly saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” as a reason to skirt publicly supporting a black Democrat in his home state of North Carolina.
However, this past July, Jordan made a surprising 180 when he condemned police brutality in an open letter published on ESPN’s the Undefeated in July, and announced he would donate money to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
As Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Today, a new generation of black athletes are speaking out and paying their dues.